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Is OSHA a bully?

September 6, 2012

To one Maine construction company owner who refuses to pay OSHA fines from a fatal incident, the government is a “bully.”

According to an article in the Bangor Daily News, agency inspectors responding to the death of a worker later issued citations related to allegedly unsafely jacking a structure from its foundation, which eventually crushed the victim.

The owner’s reaction to the inspection, according to the newspaper:

 "When OSHA inspectors showed up, [owner Linwood] Stover said they started 'picking on' him and found 'little things' to cite him for. He believes in safety, he said, but doesn’t believe it’s OSHA’s priority. 'They are not concerned about safety,' he said. 'They’re concerned about their wallet.'"

I’ve heard this before – that OSHA will issue penalties because the agency wants to collect more money to add to its coffers, and OSHA inspectors will nitpick items just to issue a citation.

The first issue is quickly disproven – Section 17 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act directs all civil penalties collected by the agency to be deposited in the U.S. Treasury – the agency keeps none of that money.

The second issue is a bit more complicated. Officially, while the agency does set goals for the number of inspections it conducts, OSHA has no quota system. The law prohibits using results from enforcement activities – such as citations issued or penalties assessed – to evaluate agency staff or to impose quotas.

However, some former compliance officers have shared stories with me of inspectors being told to write more serious citations, and Nevada OSHA a year ago set new requirements for its inspectors to issue more serious, willful and repeat citations.

What do you think? Is OSHA a bully, using its inspectors to nitpick and cite every little potential violation? Is the agency simply enforcing the law? Or is it a mixture of both? Leave your comments below, or email me at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in "Washington Wire" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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